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  Kemble Air Day - Gloucestershire 18th June 2006


Review - The Cotswold countryside resounded to the sound of Hunter borne Rolls Royce Avon engines and other classic jets on Sunday 18th June as the Kemble Air Day 2006 got underway, opened in fine style by Delta Jets Hunter T.7 XL577 in its striking ‘Blue Diamond’ colour scheme.  As well as providing a great father’s day treat for many lucky dads, the show celebrated 10 years of operation by Kemble based Delta Jets and also the 10th year of civilian airshows at the airfield.

Although familiar to many as the home of the RAF Red Arrows from 1966 to 1983, Kemble is less well known for its status as a major United States Air Force logistics and maintenance centre from April 1983 to July 1992.  The first job undertaken involved working on corrosion in the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt IIs of the UK based 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, whose steel and alloy components suffered in the damp, salty climate, a job that previously had meant the aircraft having to return to the USA.  Maintenance and inspections of the 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing’s Northrop F-5E Tiger II aggressor aircraft also became a regular occurrence alongside work on C-130 Hercules transports.  With the end of the cold war came the winding down of USAF operations in Europe and RAF Kemble finally closed in March 1992 ending 56 years of military operations at the site.

A new lease of life was granted to the airfield when it was bought by Ronan Harvey in 2001 and, in March 1996, Delta Jets moved in from Wellesbourne Mountford airfield.  Delta Jets have since become a major force in the restoration and operation of classic British military jet aircraft.  Innovations have included an electrical starting system for the Hunter, which is more reliable and economical than the traditional cartridge starter, while the organisation has also developed a Civil Aviation Authority approved life extension programme for the Rolls Royce Avon engine. 

The display itself included a good variety of acts ranging from the Griffon growl of Filton, Bristol based Spitfire PR.XIX PS853 to the near vertical climbs and turns of a RNZAF Boeing 757.  Unfortunately a technical problem kept the Delta Jets Gnat on the ground while paperwork delays did the same for The Vampire Preservation Group’s T.11 WZ507 G-VTII and Air Atlantique’s Venom FB.50 G-DHVM.  Fortunately there was still plenty for the classic jet enthusiast, including Air Atlantiques Meteor TT.20 WM167 G-LOSM flown by Brian Grant, Exeter based Hunter GA.11 XE685 G-GAII, the restoration of which was completed in February of this year, the Royal Navy Historic Flight Hawker Sea Hawk FGA.6 WV908 flown by Lt Pat Barnes and a polished routine from the Delta Jets display team consisting of Andy Cubin leading in Hunter T.7 WV372 G-BFXI ‘Fox One’ and Steve Hicks in the number two position in Hunter T.7 XL577 G-BXKF ‘Blue Diamond’. Another great display came from a Belgian Air Component Magister.  Although technically still a serving military aircraft, the Fouga Magister is a classic in its own right.  The prototype Magister first flew on 23rd July 1952 and this is the last year that the type will display pending its retirement from service.  Amazingly, the type is celebrating over 249,000 flying hours in Belgian service and the Magister was appropriately marked for the occasion.

All aircraft could be appreciated at close range as pilots strapped in, pre-flight checks were completed and engines were started up, due to the Kemble speciality of having the live jet ‘pan’ integral to the crowd, and some great photographic opportunities were to be had.  The final display was from the Red Arrows, although incursions into their airspace by another aircraft eventually led to the display having to be stopped.

Highlights of the static exhibits on show included Dave Hall’s Kemble Mosquito Project.  Visitors were able to climb into the cockpit through the fuselage entry hatch and experience the inside of a DeHavilland Mosquito B.IV as it would have been during World War Two, including being able to sit in the cockpit and also crawl into the bomb aimers position.  Dave’s ultimate aim is to have a fully functioning fast taxiable recreation and, to this end, if anyone can help with any parts, particularly power plants – a pair of Jaguar V12s, or even Merlin’s would be useful – then please contact him via this website.  Presently the fuselage is largely complete and the next major task is to build the wings, including the power plants, and for this Dave is in urgent need or workshop space.  Delta Jets are kindly giving the project hanger space as the lease on the current workshop runs out at the end of the year but the long-term viability of the project will be limited unless more space can be secured.  Although Dave has received a very generous offer of space to the north east an ideal solution would be for the project to remain at Kemble as it is close to Dave’s home.

Close by could be found the Britannia XM496 Society who put in a tremendous amount of work to paint the port side of former RAF Bristol Britannia C.1 XM496 for last year’s show.  Visitors to Kemble this year could enjoy the sight of ‘Regulus’ fully clothed in its smart RAF Transport Command livery.

The show saw the official launch of Bomber Command Heritage’s campaign to save Bicester airfield.  Bomber Command Heritage is a not for profit organisation dedicated to researching, educating and raising awareness of the role of Bomber Command in the Second World War.  The group’s long term goal is to see a national museum dedicated to all aspects of the subject, ideally based at a former RAF heavy bomber station, where airframes, engines, displays, artefacts and archives could be displayed, appreciated and utilised by all within a wider historical context.

At present such a site exists in the shape of Bicester in Oxfordshire.  Bicester was built as a bomber station in 1924 and retains, better than any other aviation site in Britain, the layout and fabric relating to both the first expansion period of the RAF and subsequent developments up to 1940.  The grass airfield survives, alongside well-preserved 1920s and 1930s hangars, a unique 'Fort' type control tower and a pre-World War Two bomb store.  More importantly the buildings have now been listed by English Heritage.

The airfield is still owned by the Ministry of Defence who are currently reviewing the sites future, with two possible choices presenting themselves.  The first is for the airfield to be developed, which would allow BCH to own a small museum on the site.  The second choice would be to turn the airfield into a major Bomber Command Museum bringing important tourism revenue into the area and also realising the ambition of BCH to be able to preserve this important part of our heritage in its entirety.

The aim of BCH’s campaign is to show to the MoD the depth of support for a museum venture, with a petition launched at the show the first part of this action.  BCH Chairman Martin Jones described the launch as a means to “gauge peoples' reaction. We were most overwhelmed and heartened by the response and comments people gave.”

If you would like to add your voice to the campaign please visit the group’s website www.bc-heritage.org for more information.

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